Pakistan's moment of truth

Daily: The News
Date: 19.05.11

Of all the statements made since the Abbottabad incident, the most significant one is the
demand by PML-N Chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, for the empowerment of the civilian
government in accordance with the Constitution.

If the demands made by Nawaz Sharif at a press conference on May 14 are fulfilled, the
change will prove to be a turning point in the internal and foreign policies of Pakistan. No
one before Nawaz Sharif had attempted to redefine the functional boundaries between
parliament and the military (and the intelligence agencies allied to the military), as well as
between Pakistan and the United States.

This statement dwarfed parliament’s resolution asking for an inquiry commission to
investigate into the intelligence failure that led to the launching of the Abbottabad operation
by the US navy SEALs. Although the demand was contained in a few sentences, Nawaz
Sharif has suggested a panacea for Pakistan’s numerous ills. The intelligence agencies
should not run a parallel government; all institutions of the executive, including the military
and intelligence agencies, should be subservient to the civil authority; the contours of the
foreign policy should be determined by the elected government; the budget of the military
and intelligence agencies should be presented in parliament for discussion; and Pakistan
should discard its policy of reliance on the US.

To some people the demands sound like a call for rebellion. Members of this school of
thought think that Nawaz Sharif has found the moment when he can seek revenge from
those who destroyed his “heavy mandate” on Oct 12, 1999. To the rest of us, the demands
of the former prime minister were long overdue, especially in view of the regional and global
realities after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

In international politics, the internal dynamics of a country determine the nature and
direction of its foreign policy. In Pakistan, since 1947, the element which has been
influencing the country’s foreign policy is the perceived existential threat from India. In the
context of civil-military relations, the balance of power shifted in favour of the military in the
mid-1950s when Pakistan joined the US-sponsored SEATO and CENTO blocs.

During the Cold War era, the US government might have smarted under the pressure of the
priorities set by the US military and intelligence agencies towards Pakistan. In that era, US
policy on Pakistan was based on four main points: Pakistan’s proximity to the Soviet Union
(which could offer the US opportunities to watch Soviet moves); the country’s proximity to
the Persian Gulf (which could enable Pakistan to defend vital oil sea transportation routes
for the US); the ideological closeness of Pakistan to countries of the Middle East (which
could help the US enhance its influence in the Arab world); and the camaraderie of
Pakistan with China (which could help the US befriend China).

During the Cold War, Pakistan-US relations could be seen more in terms of inter-military
relations than in terms of inter-civilian relations. In fact, it was the military-to-military bond
that was consolidated at the cost of civilian-to-civilian ties.

As a result, in Pakistan, the role of the military received greater importance, which led to
military’s influence on the civilian sectors of society, including the running of the federal
government and foreign policy. Secondly, the military held sway over foreign affairs when
Pakistan decided to create geo-strategic regional parity with India. Resultantly, frequent
martial laws became a norm. Intelligence agencies started influencing the political system
and started making and breaking political alliances “in the best national interests.”

In the post-Cold War era, the dynamics of the world changed from politico-military blocs to
socio-economic alliances. In the economic sphere, Pakistan was considered a country just
feeding on the American taxpayers’ money. The gory incident of 9/11 stirred the US into
action and accentuated the economic angle with which it viewed the world.

In 2004, the US declared Pakistan its major non-Nato ally, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act in
2009 signified a big shift in the nature of US policy towards Pakistan from inter-military
relations to inter-civilian relations, even when Pakistan was required as a proxy in the
ongoing war on terror. Perhaps, Pakistan has yet to realise the post-Cold War realities.

With the emergence of Pakistan-US relations, the military and intelligence agencies in
Pakistan naturally have to retreat to their constitutionally prescribed roles. On the internal
front, if the role of intelligence agencies diminishes, it is predictable that several political
and religious parties will become politically irrelevant. It is important to reduce the
eavesdropping ability of the intelligence agencies. They should stop tapping the telephones
of politicians, bureaucrats and judges, and keep a sharper eye on outlaws.

After Pakistan tested six nuclear bombs on May 28, 1998, the fear of an existential threat
from India should have evaporated. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The moment that
fear is gone, there will be no need left to look to the US for any help. That moment will be
the beginning of the self-reliance of Pakistan.

The Abbottabad operation was a display of sophisticated technology not available to
Pakistani forces. It was technology that made the difference between US and Pakistanis
forces. Buying custom-built weapons and surveillance systems is one thing but inventing
the same kind of equipment is altogether different. Countries that are advanced in science
and technology have the potential to dominate others.

Pakistan should now consider the present situation as its moment of truth. It should
seriously think of increasing its intellectual potential. There is more need now than ever
before for an increase in expenditure on the provision of education to the coming
generations.

Pakistan should come out of its self-imposed security lock-up. Importing costly radars,
helicopters, tanks, and weapons cannot make Pakistan invincible. Technology is a product
of human intelligence. Without tapping the intellectual potential of its citizens, Pakistan
cannot escape humiliating experiences such as the Abbottabad operation. Pakistan does
not require rifles and bullets, Pakistan needs researchers and scholars.

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